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Comedy of Errors in Pointless TTT

Rojas Catalunya Podium
Yeah José, you can't keep that.
PGS/Tim De Waele/Corbis via Getty Images

I had problems with a forty-one kilometre TTT being in a one-week stage race to begin with. Personally, I simply dislike the discipline and think that there are far more certain way of getting a few seconds of entertainment out of a cycling race, even if there are no better ways of getting nice snapshots for whichever team's website. Perhaps that Hammer Series, which actually looks like it could provide more than a few seconds of entertainment and more than one nice picture for a website, will sort out both the abundance of TTTs and the way for teams to fight out as just that — teams.

To me, a stage which was not just likely but absolutely guaranteed to rule out not only the small teams who are relying on this race for their literal biggest amount of exposure all year, like Manzana Postobon and Funvic Brasil, who are now more than four and more than five minutes down on GC respectively, but also bigger teams who just happened to be short of the correct riders for this stage, like AG2R, who brought the guy in second on GC in last year's Tour. It's not Romain Bardet's fault that he never had a hope of finishing within two minutes of Tejay van Garderen on this stage. He happens to be riding on a French team, which I'm sure is an ideal situation for him, the team, his family, the French fans and French media, essentially all the people he might take into consideration when choosing a team, one who don't have eight riders equal to BMC's eight on today's terrain. The same is true of Ilnur Zakarin. He's somebody who could win this race — it would add to his palmarés substantially, and there's the field here for him to do so. Katusha, if they had the motivation, could even have targeted this stage and given him the ability to win overall, but of course they didn't, because Dwars, Gent-Wevelgem and E3 are objectively bigger and better targets for their rouleurs.

We now have fewer than ten people who can win this race, and only four once we see who the four teams within an acceptable distance of race leader Alejandro Valverde have sorted out their leaders. And that reminds me — how ridiculous is it that Valverde is the race leader? For some backstory, José Joaquín Rojas' sixth place in yesterday's sprint assured him of the leader's jersey upon crossing the line with his team today, and that looked to be that until BMC riders started complaining about, well, this.

I don't care why there was a push. I don't care how hard the push was. I don't care what little effect the push had. I just care that there was a push, and according to the UCI regulations, which need to be applied, that is an infringement. Here it is, in black and white.

Therefore, it is very clear that Movistar were breaking the rules and deserve to be punished. However, it is very clear that they were punished both wrongly, pointlessly, and ridiculously leniently.

That's not up for interpretation. Giving the race jury the power to make decisions of their own discretion here is just plain wrong — the rules were broken, the punishment is there, and changing undermines the jury, the UCI and the race. Valverde — and everyone wearing a green M — should be forking out and digging themselves out of the one minute hole they ought to have found themselves in, because they very obviously broke the rules in the exact way that this rule is meant for.

The only way that this could be made more farcical is the way the punishment ended up being doled out. Rojas was punished first because he was the one doing the pushing, with a three minute penalty pulled out of the standard stage race storage space of the race jury's asses. Then his team mates Nelson Olivera and Andrey Amador were given very arbitrary penalties of one and two minutes respectively. Why the punishments were different is a question to which I cannot puzzle out the answers. Did Amador get an extra push/fondle? Or could it be that the jury didn't care what they did, so long as they did something? The stage remains Movistar's. The leader's jersey remains Movistar's. Movistar's hope at the GC, Alejandro Valverde, is equally able to win — he's certainly my favourite to do so. The only difference seems to be that Jose Joaquín Rojas — a rider who might get some added cachet and even a few more euro next time he signs a contract out of having the leader's jersey for a day — now does not get to wear it, and everything else carries on as normal. I'm not the first, or the thousand and first, to say this, but the rules have to be applied, they have to be applied fairly, and they have to make sense. This smacks of the jury doing something for the sake of doing something, and it having only negative effects.